Do The Hard Thing

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As you walk into my office and look toward the small table by the window you will see a sign that reads, “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I put it there for a couple of reasons. First, as a reminder of how much I love what I do – and how little I like routine jobs. Second, I have more than a few people drop by and disclose they are not doing what they love. I want to give them a little foretaste of what I am most likely to say when we are finished.

As much as anyone I know I’ve probably lived by that simple code. I have actively avoided getting entangled by tasks that bore, drain, frustrate or take me out of my zone of satisfaction. In fact, in talking with a young friend the other day about my inevitable retirement he said, “Your working life is what everyone hopes for in life and retirement. To do what you love is what we are all after. What in the world are you thinking? To what would you retire?” He was right. I have not worked a day in my life for a couple of decades now. “Follow your passion” has made so much sense.

Well, that’s not entirely true as teaching a Sunday School has taught me to do things I do not love and for which I have very little passion or natural competence. I tried to slough off the visitation, counseling, confronting, hand-holding, and grief to others early on because it was not what I naturally enjoyed. By not having the gifts of compassion or mercy there was no reason to go and sit with people waiting for surgery or just coming out. There were no tangible benefits to them or me in saying hard things to a wandering spouse or sitting with my hand on the arm of one in deep waters. I’m not proud of what I’m telling you. Dr. John Townsend would say I was living a life of entitlement without recognizing it for what it was. “Entitlement is the belief that I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment.” How could that be? I was living a life of joy and passion. It just didn’t include something I had missed entirely.

What Is Duty?

Then one day my wife Carol explained there is such a thing as Duty. I knew that but always equated it with guilt or mere obligation. Worse, I thought it was closer to shame. If you don’t do it you will be a bad person. Duty was something that made you do what you didn’t want to do. But that’s not duty, is it? That’s grudging obligation. Duty is what you do to honor your commitment to a calling to serve others. Doing their duty in giving was what Paul described in Romans when he said, “They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.” There are things we owe to others. People don’t care if I’m not good at compassion nor do they care if I have all the answers in their darkest times. I realized it was not about doing only what I enjoyed or for what I had a feel. It was doing the necessary parts of what I had been called to do for them because that is my role and responsibility – even if it was not my love.

So, now I have added another sign inspired by Dr. John Townsend: “Do The Hard Thing.” Do what may not come naturally but is the right thing to do. It is what you owe. It is what people have every right to expect from you. For me today, it is not out of guilt or unhealthy obligation – but not yet entirely out of love. Maybe someday. It is a duty and one that has begun to make me fit for eternity far more than doing merely what I love.

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Fred Smith

Fred Smith, author of "Where The Light Divides", is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He is the co-founder of Leadership Network with Bob Buford and served as President for 12 years. Fred is the founder of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. He and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.

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